Layers of Womanhood: Barbara Gamiz

Layers of Womanhood

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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As soon as she was selected for the Summer Studios residency at Project Row Houses, Barbara Gamiz knew she would focus her installation around women, particularly the women of the Young Mothers Residential and Young Mothers Employment Placement Programs. 

“I’ve been working for a long time with the ‘women’ theme,” Gamiz stated, “so it was a great opportunity to continue…especially with these wonderful women from the community.”

Throughout the residency, Gamiz spent time with the mothers from these programs, photographing them and utilizing them as subjects for her wooden sculptures.

“I asked them to think of something happy or something sad, and it was amazing,” Gamiz recounted. “One of them especially, when I asked her to think of something sad, she started to cry. I felt like I wanted to cry, too…This is getting into a very intimate part of their lives.”

Gamiz described her relationship with the mothers as a partnership. “I’m very grateful because they supported me a lot,” Gamiz said. “I really identified with them because all of us are mothers and all of us are working to be successful, to show the best parts of ourselves to our children… We want to be someone that they can feel proud of.”  

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Gamiz, who has a degree in graphic design, uses photography and sculpture in her installation. Speaking to the range of media she employed, Gamiz explained, “I love to work with material and to make 3-D elements. All the media that I work on is based on layers: My basic concept is layers. Between each layer, you can see there’s a story – like fingerprints; they stay everywhere, and you can see through the layers.”

In her installation, Gamiz created a large-print group photo of the mothers and a wall of highly emotive snapshots. “All of that shows their emotions, their state of mind, and that altogether we can go through all this,” Gamiz stated. “That’s why it’s called Women Empowering Women, because we can’t do it alone. We need a fellow, a sister, a friend, to support one another. I think that if these women raise their children with love and support, we will have safer communities, better cities, and a more peaceful world.”  

Gamiz created an immersive installation by combining her photography with large- and small-scale sculptural works representing women and themes of motherhood, home, and community. Elaborate, jigsaw-like sculptures stand in a gesture of mutual giving and receiving. However, the focal point of the house is a life-size sculpture of a tree, swallowing up the central smokestack of the row house.

“I put the tree inside the house because I wanted to show the relation between the material and the space that I was trying to create,” Gamiz explained. “The tree is a shelter for the birds and the squirrels; it’s a reflection on home. How do we want to make home for our children?  A shelter, a safe place to live, with nothing to be afraid of?”  

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Gamiz described her time at PRH as a layer in her own artistic process. “I really think that each step you make is like a layer you are living in your life… The house was transformed layer by layer, the installation – it’s all been a process, planning, making choices.”

When asked about her hopes for visitors to the installation, Gamiz said, “My hope is that they understand the meaning of this particular theme, to support and encourage women not to give up. Support this community and women from the community.  Don’t turn around and act like nothing is happening, like nobody needs help, you know?”  

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Barbara Gamiz is a graphic designer and artist who combines her training from Universidad Anahuac, where she majored in Editorial Design, in Mexico City with fine arts to create her paintings. Born in 1973 in Mexico City, her interest in learning crafts techniques began at a very young age. Barbara’s experience in graphic design led her to work in advertising agencies and also as a freelance designer. Gamiz believes that her background in graphic design is a very important part of her role as an artist. She combines her knowledge in graphic design with her techniques in art to create her artwork. Barbara’s history and training show her cultural influence in her artwork by using a high contrast pallet, graphic texture, and various layers.

Gamiz also participated in different painting workshops at Universidad Iberoamericana and in an informal studio class. She studied at Glassell School of Fine Arts in Houston where she received her certificate in painting and photography, and currently she is studying at University of St. Thomas of Houston. Some of her paintings were published in Swirl magazine in 2012. She participated in a group exhibition in Mexico City in 2010, with Contemporary Mexican artists like Ivonne Kennedy, Fernando Andriacci, Vicente Mesinas and others. Barbara has participated in juried exhibitions at Lonestar College campus Montgomery in 2011 and 2012. And other exhibitions in different locations.

The artist likes to experiment with different theories, techniques, and ideas to achieve her goals. Gamiz passion is expressed through her art making. 

Finding Connection, Fighting Erasure: Maureen Lax

Finding Connection, Fighting Erasure

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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“I’m mostly working at my actual house right now, but I’m in the process of transferring things over,” Lax began. ‘Transferring things over’ meant she was figuring out how to recreate her drawings on the walls of her shotgun house, immersing the viewer in the ghostly evidence of erasure in the Northern Third Ward.

The foundation of her installation is a series of large sheets of paper that she’s been marking with charcoal, and then erasing the marks. Later in her residency, Lax redeveloped this process, applying marks directly to the walls of the house and washing them out to achieve the otherworldly effect she was seeking. 

Speaking of charcoal as a resilient yet ephemeral medium, Lax said, “I like it for the way that it shows marks when you try to erase it. I wanted to do something with marks on an area that are disappearing but still leaving traces; I’ve seen some of that in the community, and I wanted to work with that.”

One of the unique aspects of PRH’s Summer Studios residency is the opportunity to make art in a distinctive urban community setting, where the existence of the organization is inextricable from its neighborhood context. The immersion into Third Ward factors significantly into the artistic process for most Summer Studios participants.

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Lax’s immersion into Third Ward was an intensification of her own experience of urban relocation. Having moved to Houston from Minnesota about two years ago, Lax said that she’s still processing the differences between her small-town upbringing and life in the fourth-largest American city.  

“Moving to Houston, a lot of things stood out to me about urban life,” Lax admitted.  “Things that have to do with the imagery or dynamics of urban spaces kept coming up in my work for the past year because these are part of my experience of a new place.  I’m trying to sort through, ‘why does this feel really different?’”

Narrowing the scope of the conversation, Lax spoke about some of the remarkable aspects of Third Ward.

“Most of the things I’ve heard coming out of this area is that it’s a really historic area – it holds traces of an ‘old Houston’ that you don’t really see in the rest of the city – but it’s simultaneously disappearing.  Even in my time at Project Row Houses, from watching videos and walking around the community and talking to people about it, it’s like this weird interchange between being able to see a lot of permanence in some ways and also impermanence.”

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It’s the personal aspect that has captured Lax’s attention the most – and that personal aspect renders issues of erasure all the more poignant for her.  

“There’s a lot of buildings and things that are changing, things disappearing that nobody really expected to,” Lax pointed out.  “This is a residential area, primarily, and it’s weird when it comes down to places where people used to live – like the parts of the community that were cut out when the highway went through [in reference to the displacement that happened when Highway 288 was built], or plots of land being bought up that people used to live on.”

“This is a neighborhood first and foremost,” Lax emphasized.  “It’s weirder for that to change than something like a business district, because in some ways there are more human memories steeped in this.”

The structures and the schedule of the neighborhood have been portals for Lax to glimpse the human side of the Third Ward.  

In addition to her paper installations, she worked with projections and video work, ultimately deciding to move away from them. The clips she recorded while biking around the neighborhood capture her own orientation to the neighborhood and still served as reference materials for the final installation.  

“I’ll film on the way [home], typically…in the evening,” she said. “It’s an interesting time to be riding around in the area because there’s really so much visual beauty with the contrast of the light, and it’s also when people are getting home from work, so you have people sitting on their porches and stuff like that. It’s easy to find these little images of people really living.”

Speaking directly to the prevalence of porches, Lax said, “I love the porch motif in a lot of the old houses around here. That’s something you don’t get in a lot of new developments, but it’s a great feature. I had a friend who used to live close to TSU, and that was part of his daily ritual: just coming out on the porch, sitting there, smoking, talking to friends who’d pass by. I really like that about the structure of the area here.”

Lax said the architecture is something for which she’s developed a particular fondness.  In ways reminiscent of John Biggers’ affection for shotgun houses, Lax recognizes that architecture is the framework for the strong sense of residential community.  

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“It reminds me a lot of the places where my parents grew up that I’ve spent time in: these older neighborhoods where everybody knows each other.  There are all these human ties in the area.” These human ties help Lax connect to the neighborhood and establish a sense of universality.

“This is not an area I’m from,” she acknowledged, “but this is something that connects to the area I’m from.  Nothing exists in a vacuum.”

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Maureen Lax is a sculptor and University of Houston senior who combines video, sound, and sculptural elements to create immersive installations. Through her work she approaches topics like familiarity and alienation, passage, and the psychological effects of spaces.

Goddesses in Third Ward: Faith Schwartz

Goddesses in Third Ward

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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After a 20-year career in hospitality, Schwartz recently started taking classes at Texas Southern University to study painting. “I call this the second half of my life,” she explained with a smile.

“I never really considered myself ‘the artist,’” Schwartz stated, although she has nurtured a lifelong interest in drawing and painting. “I wanted to do something different, something better, something that I’m happy with doing,” she said. “I decided to come back to school because I felt like life could be something more.”  

For her Summer Studios residency, Schwartz created a series of paintings depicting an array of goddesses reimagined as superheroes.

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A divorced mother of three finally pursuing her passion, Schwartz embodies the superheroes she paints. “I’ve always painted women,” she stated, “and I think it’s because I’m a woman who has been through some struggles. You know, the insecurity factor, the feeling that you’re not good enough, that you don’t have any direction of your own – you’re defined by so many other things besides who you are sometimes.”  

The subjects of her paintings are goddesses from a variety of mythos. When asked why she chose to depict them as superheroes, Schwartz explained, “I have a comic book style because that’s how I view women, as these really strong, complex, colorful beings – constantly fighting for a direction, for a word, and once we get it, the goddess in us is released.” 

The goddess is you is the theme of Schwartz’s installation. She painted goddesses culled from mythologies around the world, painted in settings and with details appropriate to their historic associations.

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“At first it was just African mythology, but I decided to open it up,” Schwartz stated. “It’s not just women of color; I view women universally in this way. I’ve opened it up to all races, all nationalities, so that everyone can be honored.”  

Because her subjects have distinct socio-cultural and historical settings, Schwartz extensively researches each goddess prior to starting a painting. “Each goddess that I’m representing, a lot of thought and research is going into it,” she acknowledged. “Even though it’s in a fun way, I still want to connect them to who they are and what they represent.”    

While Schwartz hopes that visitors to her installation will be able to relate to each of the goddesses, one painting in particular stands out in terms of its relevance to the Third Ward. “I want people when they walk through the door to be able to say ‘That’s my community,’” Schwartz explained, “and that’s when I came up with the idea of Ododua in Third Ward.”

Ododua is the goddess associated with Kwanzaa, family, community and good fortune.  Schwartz painted Ododua surrounded by Third Ward landmarks, including Jack Yates High School and Project Row Houses.  “It’ll be really intense; she’ll be praying blessings on Third Ward,” Schwartz explained.

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“The way that they fight for the history and to keep it maintained the way that it is, I think that’s very commendable and to be admired about the residents of Third Ward,” she said. “I really wanted to connect this to them.”  

Faith Schwartz was born and raised on the New Jersey Shore and has been a resident of Houston for the past four years. She is currently enrolled in the Art Program at Texas Southern University. Schwartz is a representational artist who utilizes drawing, painting and collage work as well as vibrant color, texture, and pattern, typically portraying women. 

Schwartz understands that the task of being a woman is a great one and embraces every moment. In her work, she addresses the struggle of self-acceptance in womanhood as a means of female empowerment, believing that women bear the strength to press on and accept themselves in the midst of insecurities. She portrays women as symbols of strength, highlighting style, grace and sexuality. 

Beautiful, Still: Colby Deal

Beautiful, Still 

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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Visitors to Colby Deal’s installation are greeted by a photo series titled Beautiful, Still.  The series is a combination of candid shots from the Third Ward community and what Deal terms ‘psychologically stimulating images’ – “staged images that challenge the thought process of who, what, when, why, and where.”  

It’s in the staging of these deliberately assembled images that Deal is able to be most intentional as an artist. Following in the tradition of photographer Gregory Crewdson, Deal arranges every detail of his thought-provoking tableaux, which he then freezes on film. “Each staged image, there’s an important story behind it that I want people to know,” he revealed. “Those staged images force people to ask questions.”

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All of Deal’s photographs, whether staged, candid or intimate portraits, focus on the subjects as relational beings, individuals existing within a social context. The intimate portraits focus on a single subject yet provide exterior information to suggest how that person might relate to others. The staged photographs typically include more than one subject, “to speak to the concept of family and community, coming together, working together.”

Deal’s concept of community is highly interdependent, and he seeks to make that explicit in his images. “When people come together, we are able to make so much more happen than being solo,” Deal stated. “Sometimes we have to come together to make things happen. For there to be a purpose for motherhood, there has to be a child – a child for you to guide, a child for you to dedicate your life to and give instruction to. Men, we have our mothers and we have our cousins, our brother-in-laws. We talk to those people to get other experiences from life so we can learn together.”  

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Deal uses his photography as a means of overturning common narratives about the neighborhood and its people. “The reason I’m doing this is because I feel our people – African-American, Brown, people in low-income areas – they’re looked at negatively a lot of times. I feel like it’s our responsibility and my responsibility as an African-American artist to filter the imagery that we allow to be shown, through the media and through other people’s eyes… We have to take responsibility for the images in our households.”

“Even though this neighborhood and community are viewed as ugly or something unpleasant, there’s still a bunch of beauty here to be seen,” Deal stated.  

While the Summer Studios residency at Project Row Houses is specifically designed to facilitate neighborhood-influenced creative practice, Deal already has a personal stake in Third Ward. His paternal grandmother lived on Simmons Street, approximately a mile from Project Row Houses, and images of her home have figured into Deal’s installation.  

Family and community are prominent themes throughout Deal’s body of work, specifically as explored in the context of the neighborhood. Speaking to the importance of place in his work, Deal said, “This is the community where people usually don’t go, or they view as unfavorable.  It’s important to show these good things happening, these happy times, in this place.”

Not all the images will be sourced from Third Ward, though. “You’ll see some that were taken on the outskirts of Fifth Ward,” Deal added. “That’s where my mother’s mother lives. That area still goes through the same skepticism…” 

“It doesn’t have to be in a really fancy neighborhood or a suburban area,” Deal stated, “for good things to happen, for you to find good imagery.”

However, this doesn’t mean that Deal’s creative practice is restricted to neighborhoods like Third Ward or Fifth Ward. When asked what he would shoot if placed in a fancy neighborhood or suburban area, he responded, “I’d still shoot the same thing… That’s the whole point of the project: people can accomplish things or ‘attain success’ and go on to a ‘better life’ – not saying that this life is bad – but they’re able to attain the goals that they want.  I seek out that natural image everywhere, because I can still see through a person’s eyes their history, the pain that they went through. It doesn’t matter where I am.”  

Deal hopes that visitors will be emotionally impacted by his installation. His work begins in a deeply personal place but presents it in a way that can translate universally. “First of all I photograph and make art as a release and as a healing process from a lot of things that I’ve dealt with,” Deal explained. Many of his photographs feature family members in settings where they have lived or have personal ties. By depicting familiar scenes from his own life, Deal hopes to move beyond the particular and produce images that resonate with a broader audience. 

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“I’m shooting what’s there, what’s around me, real, natural life events,” Deal summarized. “Showing real emotion, real things, inner thoughts – I’m displaying that… People can relate to guys playing dominoes on the corner, family getting together and having some drinks, an old lady cooking in pots with steam coming out of them. People laughing in a photograph – people can relate to that.”

Speaking of visitors to his installation, Deal stated, “I want them to sort of lean in and say, I’ve been there.

Colby Deal is a photographic artist born and raised in Houston, Texas and is currently a senior at The University of Houston pursuing his BFA in Photography. Within his practice he explores many elements such as the culmination of not only the psychological environment but the physical as well. He wants to show the dynamic range of family, community and the individual by combining street photography and portraiture to capture vibrant communities. Colby is directly inspired by his upbringing. As a child he remembers getting to see his family’s photographs that were mostly taken by his father. This appreciation for slowing down and concentrating on photographing what’s right in front of him, “The Now” has led him to be more in touch with using analog photography and giving up that instant gratification that comes with shooting digitally.

A Portrait of the Neighborhood: Luis Parra

A Portrait of the Neighborhood

Interview by McKenzie Watson
Photos by Alex Barber

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Luis Parra’s Summer Studios installation, A Portrait of the Neighborhood, came together organically. It consists of spontaneous moments stumbled upon in Third Ward captured in photographs. Utilizing a combination of street photography and portraiture, Parra captured his interactions with various community members.  

“With every person I photograph, I don’t just take their picture and walk away,” Parra said. “One person would introduce me to another person. The whole process of creating these images was really amazing, to be communicating and socializing with people in the area.”

In that sense, Parra’s installation is like a visual record of the human connections that he developed throughout his time in the neighborhood.  

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These interactions became Parra’s opportunity to experience Third Ward through the eyes of its residents. “I met this guy and was talking to him, and he introduced me to his entire family,” Parra recounted. “He started walking around with me while I was photographing and introduced me to all these people in the neighborhood. I got my favorite pictures from that time, and I think I got a lot better images because of that.” 

Parra was surprised by the level of intimacy he encountered, sustained by these social ties. “I really felt like this wasn’t just a neighborhood where people live, but more of a community where everyone knows each other,” he reflected.  

It’s this vision of the area surrounding Project Row Houses that Parra offers to viewers of his installation. By capturing these interactions as purely as possible, Parra invites viewers to share in the journey of encountering the neighborhood.  

In order to give prominence to the subjects of his photographs, Parra sought to remove himself from his installation as much as possible. “I don’t want it to seem like I’m there,” he said. “I want it to be like the camera’s invisible, capturing these little moments that would otherwise disappear.”  

To do this, Parra has eliminated another common element frequently found in photography exhibitions: frames. “I really like photos in frames,” Parra conceded, “but these pictures feel more organic.”

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Instead of framing them, Parra affixed his photos to wood blocks, which he then affixed to the white walls of the shotgun house, creating a floating effect. “When I put them on wood, it seems like the images just exist by themselves,” he said.  “They’re attached to wood, so you can approach them and just exist there.” 

The lack of frames allows the viewer to visually perceive the diptychs and triptychs favored by Parra. Displaying his work in themed sets reiterates the sense of continuity that Parra discovered in the neighborhood throughout the residency.  

Parra said he hopes that his photographs communicate the essence of his subjects. “There’s a portrait of a woman singing,” he cited as an example, “and I wanted to capture her joy, her vibrancy.”  

When asked what his hopes are for visitors to his installation, Parra responded, “I hope that they really look at the photographs and feel the moments that are going on there.”  

Luis Parra was born in Houston and grew up in south Houston. He had many artistic influences around him as a kid. Being of Cuban/Honduran decent, he was exposed to a plethora of Hispanic culture and art. Parra was always interested in the arts but didn’t fully take it seriously until his junior year of high school. He experimented with many mediums but found photography to be his passion and preferred way of creating art. He graduated from the Houston Academy for International Studies in 2017 and is now attending University of North Texas. Today he prefers to use traditional methods of photography by shooting on film and printing in the darkroom. The art he creates documents the human condition and explores alternative processes in photography.